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Gardens Celebrate the Moon

Cultural Quintessence

Japan In-depth

Kateigaho International Edition

Gardens Celebrate the Moon

Spectacular by moonlight, white quartz sand at Ginkaku fills a rigorously raked "sea" and forms a flat-topped moon-viewing platform in the head priest's garden. Surrounding conifers provide dark contrast. This view is from the Togudo, the 15th-century pavilion containing the prototype for all later tearooms.

Jisho-ji
Ginkakuji-cho 2, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Tel. 075-771-5725
Open: Daily 8:30 AM to 5 PM, March 15 through November 30; 9 to 4:30 in winter

photography by Tadayuki Naito
text by Machico Yorozu
assistance by Imperial Household Agency Kyoto Office

Landscapes designed for lunar viewing

The Japanese have long used the moon for a lot more than telling time. By checking its color, shape, and relationship to the clouds and stars, they have also used it to predict the weather, anticipate the harvest, and foretell the fishing catch. They have, in fact, regarded the moon as an awesome sort of god. In homage, they have held feasts, composed poetry, and enjoyed tea beneath its radiant beauty.
The location for these activities has traditionally been the garden, a garden built to honor the moon and celebrate its appearance. Prodigious energy and creativity have gone into the design and construction of such moon-viewing gardens. Five styles have come down from ancient times. The first attempts to mimic the natural landscape. Another, inspired by the Chinese gardens where fairies supposedly dwell, features a pond from which three islands (symbolizing three "fairy mountains") emerge, hence they are called santo-ichiren (three islands in a line) gardens.
A third style, ubiquitous in Japan, aims to recreate a Buddhist paradise on earth. Yet another, dating from the Muromachi period (1136-1573), and influenced by Zen Buddhist thought, sublimely expresses the universe and nature as a dry landscape on a small plot of land. A fifth style, developed in parallel to the tradition of the Way of Tea, is known as the roji (path to the tearoom) garden.
On these pages we present two gardens, selected for their outstanding beauty.
The moon was a significant factor in the 15th-century design of Kyoto's Ginkaku Garden, from its moon-viewing platforms to its tearooms situated to provide the best view of the moon's reflection in a garden pond. Its silver sands are spectacular. Katsura Rikyu Garden, also in Kyoto and dating from the first half of the 1600s, is the oldest and finest of the gardens meant to be enjoyed by strolling on stepping-stone paths, which wind through lovely landscaped mounds and trees, encircle a central pond, and link teahouses and pavilions. It is a pinnacle of Japanese landscape art.
Both two gardens are intimately tied to celebrating the moon—a ritual that involves all of the joy and fear the Japanese associate with lunar influences.


Silver Sands of Reflected Moonlight—Ginkaku Garden at Jisho-ji Temple

"I love my hut at the foot of the moon-awaiting mountain and the reflection of the sinking sky," says a poem by Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga. He wrote of the Ginkaku gardens and villa he built as a retreat from the demands of governing amid frequent uprisings and civil war. Construction proceeded through the 1480s. Yoshimasa died before the complex was complete, and it was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple called Jisho-ji. In 1615 the garden of the head priest was filled with white sand raked in a linear pattern to create spectacular shadows. Rising from it is a circular mound of sand that glows by moonlight. The scene is one of tranquil beauty; the white sand invokes a feeling of cleansing and renewal. Pine trees rise on the slopes of Yoshimasa's "moon-awaiting mountain."




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